For his first solo album, Chris Schlarb has gathered fifty or so collaborators to play various instruments against backdrop of a rainstorm recording that inspired the record. The result? Ten unnamed, virtually wordless tracks that are often impossible to distinguish from one another; it’s one sweeping movement, a patchwork of sound-recording snippets linked by the scene-setting ambiance of pattering rain. The few salient moments are brief and insubstantial contrasted to the whole. Twilight & Ghost Stories has, if nothing else, the mark of improvisation and inventiveness, released by an artist who doesn’t feel the need to take his raw moments and refine or streamline them. If you can accept that from the outset, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be perfectly pleased with this unusual record.
The first identifying moment for the first four tracks (which are more or less low-key exercises in composition) is the third song’s elegiac piano composition, which dabbles successfully in Philip Glass mode minimalism and repetition but lacks the meticulous instrumental blend that often make Glass’ work so mesmerizing. It’s in the second half of the album that we witness a more layered sound (or just layered in different ways), with noticeable audio bursts of children playing and carnivals humming.
The croon of an unknown contributor in the fourth track is the first real sign of a human voice. It doesn’t stand on its own, but rather serves as an intro to the real worthwhile moment of that piece. A little Rafter-ish ditty follows and morphs into a lovely piano melody that is both soothing and arresting, but ultimately unplaceable and floats untethered from the whole. If Schlarb has produced some work of melody and cohesiveness here, it’s nearly impossible to perceive.
Track five begins with a excellent saxophone solo that has to fight to be heard amongst the random, grating sound clips of what sounds like a somewhat literal collision of traffic noises and Dylan-intoned vocal gibberish. It finally stumbles upon its core melody, and we get the album’s most concretely jazzy moment: “Find your place/Up in the stars/Today, today before the roof/And what a peculiar/Oh, oh what a peculiar love.” The song within the song is entirely characteristic of Twilight & Ghost Stories—small moments of indescribable beauty that don’t mold themselves into something sufficiently tangible to convince us of their actual existence.
This is the kind of music where you’ll find something that strikes you, only to discover that the spark can’t necessarily be recaptured on repeated listens (whether it’s the Charlie Brown-ish melody in the eighth piece, or a moment where the strum of an acoustic guitar comes out momentarily on top, or the weird noir-ish spoken-word gimmick of the track nine). Every listen reveals a new layer of sound that can’t quite be described, making this an immensely challenging piece to review.
Twilight & Ghost Stories isn’t a concept album so much as an experience album. It’s the kind of thing you want to pick up a few times during the year, in the middle of the night, to let it play while you completely zone out. And to that end, it’s an unqualified success. Because, as the album bows out, and you wake up ten minutes after the music has stopped, it’s impossible to believe that you’ve really been listening to music (it must have been a dream.) Even more difficult to comprehend will be the fact that it has not, after all, been raining.
Timothy Zila is a pop music critic for Patrol.
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